After yet another discussion about stanger danger on the internet with my 8-year-old, I have come to the realisation that internet awareness for children is an issue for me much sooner than I thought it would be.
We decided that a mobile phone would happen around age 10-ish and there would be no Facebook, or whatever social media is around by then, until age 12-ish.
So, I thought we had a bit of time before we needed to worry, surely the Cbeebies app would suffice for a few years yet? But oh no, how naive was I? They are 6 and 8; the problem is now and It’s time for me to up my game.
We are lovers of technology in our house; there are laptops, tablets and phones around, and there would be more techie things if we had the money to fund it. My husband works in IT, I used to work in IT, so we are aware of developments.
Sadly though, I am not now and never have been, a gamer, so for me that is something that I have not got a clue about, I never managed to get poor Lara Croft out of the pool and that was the end of it for me.
At the moment, I feel like I am watching my children through soundproofed glass; I can see what they are doing, but I don’t really know what they are doing.
There are 3 major concerns for me at present, with new ones popping up almost daily:
- Age appropriate content
- Chat functions – accessibility of them by the outside world through games, apps and social media.
Here is my plan for getting with the programme; there are always ‘talks’ being held at school and I was lucky enough to get the chance to go to one recently, so I am including some of their hints and tips too.
1. Be Involved – I am not going to lie and pretend that the tablets and TV are not my way of getting time to do jobs around the house. That said though, I recognise how essential it is to see what they are doing. Get involved, play the games and maybe even have some fun with it too, they love showing silly old Mummy how to play.
2. Watch out for contact through the gaming apps – mine are currently into Roblox, we managed to avoid Minecraft, but this one is the current obsession. There is a chat feature, so I was really hesitant to let them play it, but we had a talk about not using this feature without an adult being present. It is a talk we now regularly repeat as people do try to contact them and the temptation to chat back is hard to resist. It may find itself taking a dive into the recycle bin for a year or so.
3. Don’t be afraid to get advice – we can’t be up on all of the games, apps and social media platforms that are out there. Even the major techies amongst us are not aware of every app on the market. O2 have teamed up with the NSPCC to provide a platform of advice for parents and carers about internet safety. It is a brilliant resource called Net-aware and is well worth a look. They even provide support in store, if you can find one of their Netaware champion stores nearby, and no, you don’t need to be an O2 customer.
4. A useful gaming support is the PEGI website, where you can find the age ratings for many of the games and apps out there. It focuses more on the age appropriate content, rather than the chat function, but the older the age rating, the chances are there is more likelihood to be chat forums and the opportunity to interact with other gamers: https://pegi.info/
5. A particularly useful tool on the website is how to install parental controls. After a rather strange episode of Charlie and Lola popped up on YouTube, we were quick to install the parental restrictions on the app. It is not a complete filter, so always check in on what they are watching.
6. Restricted Netflix profile. We use Netflix as well as YouTube, but the children are really good at only using their profile on it, which is restricted. There is access to other things if they choose to use our profiles, but I regularly check in on what they are watching. Currently it is Playmobile the movie, so I am pretty safe with that.
7. The NSPCC have produced some videos about social media, with a particular emphasis on photo sharing. My two girls love taking photos and often ask me to put them onto Facebook. My Facebook is very restricted, so I am happy to do it for them. They love SnapChat but have no idea that they can send to anyone other than their dad. I know it won’t be long before they realise there is a whole world out there. There are several videos out there that really highlight the dangers of sharing photos and how easily things can get out of hand. I have shown, ‘I have seen your willy’ to my children, click on the link below and scroll down to the videos. They will giggle but I think it gets the point across. There are other videos on there for slightly older children too. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/share-aware/
8. There is currently a campaign called #ListenToYourSelfie, which is aimed at children 13+, so for me I have a few years yet, but it is worth a look to get prepped for the relationship years: https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/friends-relationships-sex/sex-relationships/healthy-unhealthy-relationships/listentoyourselfie-lara-and-paul-stories/
9. Limit the time they spend and don’t allow blue screen too late into the evening. I sound like a right old woman now but it is an important message. I am the first to admit that I find things like Facebook and other social platforms quite addictive - I am constantly on the look out for likes and comments. It is exactly the same for children; the more they play, the more they want to play. My oldest even declined the offer of an ice-cream last week, so that she could get home quicker to play on the tablet. I have been quite lucky until very recently in that their attention span is limited, so they never spent too long on one thing. But things are changing and I am now having to tell then when to put the tablets away. Be prepared for outbursts and tantrums; I usually try to find a diversion tactic of some kind to cushion the blow – eating is often a good one.
10. Pick your battles – this is something I use in everyday life with my kids, if it is not worth a meltdown or a tantrum, don’t bring it up. They need access to these things, I truly believe that an in-depth understanding of computing and all that brings with it, is an essential life skill. They need space to learn and play but be aware and surprise them with your knowledge. Laughter and understanding are better tools than conflict.